Daoism and Cct

Customs and Rituals

What is the connection between Daoism and the martial arts?

Early each morning, nearly everywhere in China, people gather in public places both large and small to practice a slow graceful routine of physical movements called tai ji chuan. People of all ages can engage in this activity. Though it is not strenuous the way higher-speed exercises can be, tai ji (also commonly spelled t’ai chi) nevertheless puts noticeable demands on an astonishingly wide range of muscles all over the body. The idea is not simple physical toning, however, even though that is an obvious benefit. Its purpose is to maintain or restore one’s overall sense of health and well-being through relaxed concentration. Proper practice relieves blockages of vital energy and returns the whole person to balance and harmony both physically and spiritually. Tai ji routines and styles are varied, with three methods called Chen, Wu, and Yang most common nowadays.

Many of the underlying principles in the practice are of Daoist origin and remain a regular part of the regimen in many Daoist monasteries. But it seems more reasonable on the whole to identify tai ji as a more generically Chinese phenomenon, since for centuries non-Daoists have made use of it with no apparent direct connection with Daoist beliefs. As for its relationship to actual martial arts, tai ji movement is based on the notion that nonaggressiveness, what is called “being weak like water,” is ultimately more effective than trying to overwhelm one’s opponent with brute force. Hence, for example, the Japanese term ju-do derives from a Chinese term (rou dao) that means “the way of yielding.”


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